Saturday, May 10, 2003
Here's a List You Don't See Every Day
Ran into this link while doing a search on Google. You might want to bookmark it.
Right On, Right Off
In his final three at-bats Saturday, Adrian Beltre made an obvious effort to go to the right side with the pitch, and got singles all three times. The balls weren't hit tremendously hard, but I still think it's an encouraging sign to see him go with an outside pitch rather than trying to hook around it like he was taming the Indy 500.
Beltre went a little too far to his right when taking his lead from second base in the eighth inning, unfortunately.
McGriff-Kinkade Day 3
Fred McGriff continued his assault on my good name with a game-winning home run off a left-handed pitcher Friday.
Mike Kinkade continued to defend my honor by getting hits and drawing what was essentially a Barry Bonds-like intentional walk with runners on first and second and two out.
I'm not trying to make this about me, but I do feel my credibility is at stake.
I still think I'm right about McGriff, and that the past two nights were a fluke. But the debate is purely philosophical now. With two consecutive big games off left-handed pitching, Jim Tracy will now have no qualms about continuing to bat McGriff cleanup against lefties every day for quite a while.
I fought the Crime Dog, and the Crime Dog won.
(Just to be clear, this was only about lefties. McGriff already had my blessing to go to town against righties.)
But what to do about Kinkade? The guy simply has not been getting out. How much work do you do to get him more at-bats?
If you're not going to play him at first against lefties, I don't know what you do. His poor fielding at third base neutralizes his offensive value if you put him there - he simply doesn't field well enough at the position to consider him as a replacement for Adrian Beltre - even if you're a Beltre-basher, which I'm not.
He could give Brian Jordan - and even Shawn Green - more than an occasional rest in the outfield. Keep everybody fresh.
I suppose that as long as McGriff hits, it's not really a problem. But if McGriff reverts to form against lefties, it could get frustrating watching Kinkade languish on the bench.
Friday, May 09, 2003
Piazza to Los Angeles?
There are at least 14 stories in New York papers today about Mike Piazza moving to first base.
There is one story in Los Angeles today about Piazza perhaps coming to the Dodgers by 2004. And Ross Newhan makes a plausible case.
The small question is whether Piazza can field a position which, while easier than catching, does benefit from a talented defender.
The big question is whether Piazza's offensive numbers have been declining because of the wear and tear of catching, or the wear and tear of aging.
The big answer may be that it just doesn't matter. Last season was the worst season of Piazza's career, but he still had an OPS of .913 and an EQA of .304. This season, when Piazza is supposedly really struggling, his OPS is .890 and his EQA is .311. Those numbers still top every Dodger regular.
I wouldn't give up the farm for Piazza, who turns 35 this season, but I might give up a barn or three.
I'd still bet on Piazza finishing his career in the American League, however.
Trying to Make Me Look Bad?
Kazuhisa Ishii, who I have said should go to the bullpen, pitched six innings of one-run ball Thursday and lowered his ERA to 2.95.
Fred McGriff, who I have said cannot hit left-handed pitchers, much less bat cleanup against them, went 2 for 4 with 2 RBI.
Ron Coomer, who I have said should not be on the Dodger roster, doubled and scored in three at-bats.
Adrian Beltre, who I have said still has more potential than almost every hitter on the team, struck out on three pitches with two runners on.
The Dodgers, who I have said need to hit home runs to score, scored six runs without one.
Looking good, huh? Well, I've looked better.
Ishii confounds me, I have to say. He's allowed 56 baserunners in under 40 innings. But what must be happening is that amid all the leadoff walks that make me about to keel over, he is finding a way to generate outs with runners on. (It helps, say, when Brian Jordan can make a superb catch with runners on in the sixth inning of a 1-1 game. Without that catch, we're having a different conversation this morning.) Anyway, I need to find Ishii's stats with runners on as opposed to bases empty.
Ishii also taked after the game about adjusting his delivery. There have been times that I have noted - anecdotally - that Ishii has gone to pitching in a stretch, even with the bases empty, and improved his performance. Perhaps his ability to minimize scoring, with runners on base all season and overall on Thursday, has something to do with that.
As for McGriff, he did get his hits, but Brian Jordan went 1 for 2 with two walks and Mike Kinkade went 1 for 1. So it wasn't like I was wrong about Jordan and Kinkade getting primacy over McGriff against lefties. Even after Thursday's game, McGriff's OPS against lefties is .508. Jordan improved to 1.209; Kinkade to 1.583. (Again, the 2003 stats come from small sample sizes, but the differences echo the stats from 2002.)
As for Coomer and Beltre, well, Coomer's still an aging player who's no better than Beltre. I am glad Coomer got his double (especially now that I know how big a Springsteen fan he is), but I haven't given up hope that Beltre can be solved. Certainly, he must be solved for the Dodgers to win this season.
Finally, as for the home runs - they're not the only way to score runs. But the home run is an area of the offense where it's clear the team is performing below its potential. Stuck at 20 after 35 games, the Dodgers have been passed by Detroit and have fallen into last place in the majors.
The six runs the Dodgers scored last night was the most they have scored all season without a home run. They don't figure to repeat that feat too often. The home run issue still needs to be addressed and corrected. There has to be a reason why this team has had such a sudden dropoff in power.
In any case, the Dodgers are now 9-4 in their past 13 games. They have put together a true winning stretch. The series with Montreal, a team that is No. 3 in the league in run differential, will be a meaningful test.
Thursday, May 08, 2003
I still find myself rooting against the Arizona Diamondbacks, even when they are playing teams with better records, even though their season is crumbling like bleu cheese.
Starting pitchers Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and Byung-Hyun Kim have all had their names typed onto the disabled list, and have combined for three wins and a 5.11 ERA. Now Craig Counsell, who did nothing for the Dodgers but seems to go 3-for-4 against them every time he faces Los Angeles - a latter day Jim Eisenreich - has his second significant injury in less than a year.
That said, Arizona remains only 2 1/2 games behind the Dodgers. It's still hard not to fear them rising up and biting us like a, I don't know, venomous snake.
It can happen to anyone. Have you noticed that woebegone Detroit has crept to within two games of woebehere Cleveland?
More and more people in the baseball world are talking about Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis, and now I know why. Last night, I read the excerpt printed in Sports Illustrated - and it was just a terrific read. I look forward to reading the book's surrounding pages.
By the way, I am wrapping up The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers, and Their Final Pennant Race Together by Michael Shapiro and plan to write about it soon.
Romancing the Unturned Stone
The Fred McGriff mystery is solved!
We just need to get to the epilogue. You know, like the part at the end of Dragnet where everyone gets what's coming to them.
Robert Kuwada of the Orange County Register fulfilled one of my open requests from Wednesday. He asked Jim Tracy why he was batting left-handed Fred McGriff after left-handed Shawn Green:
A case might be made to put Brian Jordan between Shawn Green and Fred McGriff, the two power left-handed bats in the Dodgers lineup.
But Tracy has had Green and McGriff back-to-back the past nine games, trying to get Jordan more at-bats with runners in scoring position.
"To me, Brian Jordan is the guy who best fits the bill (in the No. 5 spot in the lineup)," Tracy said. "With Shawn or Fred on base, he is the guy you would want to see up there with a bat in his hands in those situations right now. Brian Jordan, in his own way, figures out ways to do something."
Okay - the problem with this theory is, Jordan is getting on base more than McGriff - or Green, for that matter:
Jordan OBP: .374
Green OBP: .351
McGriff OBP: .321
However, against righties, McGriff does leapfrog Jordan and Green:
McGriff OBP against righties: .379
Jordan OBP against righties: .326
Green OBP against righties: .314
Here are the OBP numbers against lefties:
McGriff OBP against lefties: .167
Green OBP against lefties: .435
Jordan OBP against lefties: .565
By the way, do you see the anomaly. Green is getting on base more against left-handed pitchers. That's only in 46 plate appearances, however, and deviates from a longtime career pattern of getting on base more against righties.
McGriff's numbers are extreme, but no anomaly. As I've overdocumented on this site, he hasn't been hitting lefties for a long time.
So here's the compromise I'm offering Jim Tracy. McGriff can bat cleanup against right-handed pitchers. But when a left-handed reliever comes in, Tracy must pinch-hit for him with Mike Kinkade.
The need for this too apparent to ignore. I mean, did Tracy go to all the trouble of removing Eric Karros from his crumbling Dodger pedestal, only to install McGriff atop it? Tracy needs to make the move.
In the Times this morning, Tracy said the following:
"There is no bigger critic of me than myself," Tracy said. "If I walk out [of his office] and feel like there was a stone that I left unturned that would have helped us win, or quite possibly helped us to get beat, that would keep me up every minute of the night. I can tell you that in the three years I've managed this club, there have been very few times that I walked out of this room and felt that way."
Look, Jim - a stone. An upside-down stone.
Turn it over.
Wednesday, May 07, 2003
This Is the Cause
On April 29, I noted how much less frequently the Dodgers are hitting home runs with a similar lineup to last season's. I'm still in the exploration stage on this issue, but I am really starting to think there has been too much emphasis on the Dodgers needing to scratch and claw out runs by the bunt and hit-and-run. As a team, the Dodgers need to start swinging for the fences.
Here is the Dodger won-lost record in 2003 broken down by runs scored in a nine-inning game:
less than 3 runs...1-11
exactly 3 runs......2-2
more than 3 runs...12-0
This is exactly what you would expect from a team that is scoring 3.52 runs per game and allowing 3.03 runs per game. In fact, the only unexpected result of this breakdown is that it adheres so closely to expectations. As of this moment, the Dodgers have even played exactly the same number of nine-inning games in which they've scored above and below three runs.
Here is the Dodger record in 2003 broken down by runs allowed in a nine-inning game:
less than 3 runs...11-1
exactly 3 runs......3-6
more than 3 runs...1-6
The breakdown is not completely dissimilar from a pitching standpoint, except that allowing three runs in a nine-inning game hasn't been good enough. When Dodger opponents score their third run in a nine-inning game, they are 12-4.
The Dodgers are averaging 0.49 more runs than they allow. With just the slightest improvement - an improvement within the range of possibility - the Dodgers can start to become a winning team. It's in the range of possibility because even the Dodgers can do better than their current ranking of 29th in the major leagues in home runs.
Currently, the Dodgers have no power potential at CF, SS and 2B.
At the five positions where they do have power potential:
--not one is performing above expectations heading into this season.
--not one is performing above the league average at their position.
It's time to get specific when we talk about the woes of the Dodger offense. There may be other problems with the team, but the lack of home runs is the biggest.
Start with Adrian Beltre if you like. He has been disappointing based even on our sliding scale of high expectations for him. However, Brian Jordan, Fred McGriff, Paul LoDuca and Shawn Green are also falling short. No Dodger is on pace to hit more than 20 home runs this year.
This is a collective failure.
And when a collective failure like this happens, it's time for someone to examine the Dodgers' overall approach. This could have something to do with the way they swing the bat, Jack Clark's injuries, or what the Dodgers are eating for breakfast. But something bigger than any individual is holding back the Dodgers.
I don't mean this in as poor taste as it may sound, but the inability to hit home runs has spread across the team like a virus, and the Dodger braintrust needs to attack that virus like it was life and death. Because, within the realm of the 2003 pennant race, it is.
Q & No A
1) When Odalis Perez is coming off a 132-pitch outing - itself inexplicable - what did Jim Tracy think he had to gain by sending Perez out to pitch in the sixth inning Tuesday when Perez had already thrown 93 pitches and allowed 10 baserunners?
2) I asked this question in March, but still have no answer. What does Tracy think he has to gain by batting lefties Shawn Green and Fred McGriff back-to-back? The Mets exploited this Tuesday, bringing in Mike Stanton to mow down Green and McGriff, then bringing in Scott Strickland to get Brian Jordan and Adrian Beltre.
3) When will Tracy face the longstanding reality that McGriff does not hit lefthanders anymore?
McGriff 2003 OPS vs. righties: .804
McGriff 2003 OPS vs. lefties: .449
McGriff 2002 OPS vs. righties: .946
McGriff 2002 OPS vs. lefties: .620
I like Tracy, so I don't ask these questions rhetorically. I assume there are answers. True, it'd be nice if I went out and did the asking instead of depending on others to do so - after all, they are my questions. I just don't know why none of the beat reporters find this relevant.
Tuesday, May 06, 2003
Frontier Justice in the Park
A 95-mile-per-hour fastball races at your skull thisfast. Instinctively you duck away, the baseball slamming into your shoulder, branding you like cattle at the Double-R Rawlings Ranch.
In the next moment - the moment just after you realize how much pain you are in - judge and jury synapses in your brain render a verdict: That pitcher tried to hit you on purpose. He hurt you with an intentional act.
In response, you could charge the mound. You could make a conscious decision to do this, or it could be as instinctive as your move to duck away from the fastball in the first place.
In either case, what can you hope to accomplish?
1) You might hurt the pitcher back. But frankly, the chances of that are slim. You may be a burly sort with Popeye arms, but you're no fighter. Think about all the baseball brawls in our lifetimes. How many times has someone actually exacted physical revenge on a beanballer? Usually, the batter is intercepted before reaching the pitcher. If the batter does reach the pitcher, he rarely has the skill and time to inflict any real damage.
2) You might show the team, the fans, the media, the history books, your family, that you're not going to take this crap lying down. You're sending a message, but it's less about the pitcher than about yourself. You are a man, Old West style. You give a damn. Of course, you're in pretty sad shape if your manhood and your team's belief in you or itself depend on what happens when you are hit by a pitch.
3) You might intimidate the pitcher enough that he will be frightened from pitching you inside at all. However, have you ever known that to work, either?
4) It's a catharsis.
None of the above reasons are compelling ones. Whether you're a pacifist or a hawk, I don't see how you could find any benefit to seeing someone you support charge the mound.
Whereas, there are obvious drawbacks:
1) You risk suspension.
2) A third party is more likely to get hurt than the pitcher.
3) It's morally wrong.
That's right. It doesn't matter how intentional a hit-by-pitch is. A pitcher could throw a fastball at your head with a note taped to it, flapping in the fastball breeze, that says, "Let the record show that I'm doing this on purpose." It would still be wrong to charge the mound.
Baseball isn't the frontier. There are officers and judges. They are called umpires and Bob Watson. And however much or little you respect their opinions, by becoming a Major League baseball player, you have agreed to abide by them. They are in charge. They are the law.
We have all felt rage and pain. We can all remember times when the feeling of our blood boiling has been much more reality than metaphor to us. We can in fact imagine how it would have felt to be as ferociously angry as Mike Piazza. But we can also all imagine how to deal with that anger.
Self-defense is one thing when you're on your own, but vigilantism has no place in a supervised arena, whether it's in the bleachers when someone spills beer on you, or on the field when someone tries to spill your brains. Not even a victim should be above the law. It's up to the people in charge to administer punishment.
As we head into the Mike Piazza-Guillermo Mota reuinion, it seems clear that no one really wants a fight, other than that segment of baseball fans who are somehow willing to pay $49.95 to watch that sham of a sport, professional boxing. Regardless, it's a good time for people, on the field and off, to really evaluate charging the mound. It makes no sense on any level, logically or emotionally.
Let's grow up.
Monday, May 05, 2003
Fast Up, You Move Too Slow
Only 206 pitches were needed by both teams to get through Sunday's 115-minute game. However, the game would have been over even sooner, and Eric Gagne would still be unscored upon in 2003, if evidence of Shawn Green's disappearing speed didn't continue to materialize.
Green trudged in pursuit of, but could not reach, Jason Kendall's high foul ball on a 3-2 pitch with one out in the ninth. Kendall then walked and later scored the run off Gagne.
Among major-league right-fielders, Green is 18th in range factor ([putouts plus assists] divided by innings) and 14th in zone rating (the percentage of balls fielded by a player in his typical defensive "zone," as measured by STATS, Inc.).
It's true that Dave Roberts and Brian Jordan are about as low or lower than Green in these statistics. The Dodger pitchers just aren't allowing a lot of fly balls to the outfield - they have the second-highest ratio of grounders-to-flies allowed (1.67:1) in the majors. So that partially mitigates Green's poor fielding stats.
Put it this way - when I watch Green run, visions of Eric Karros leap to mind. Green runs like he can't keep up with the treadmill.
And by the way, Green still has not stolen a base since September 11, 2002.
When the Dodgers replace Fred McGriff, they will need to do it with an outfielder. The only speed left in Green's game is how quickly he's becoming inadequate in his current position.
P.S.: Don't feel blue about the Dodgers passing on Cliff Floyd, though. Floyd has an OPS of .798 and will be bothered by Achilles' tendon trouble all season, it appears. Floyd's still performing better than McGriff (.704 OPS), but not by enough to justify his salary.
A Quick One
Just to wrap up Sunday's game ...
--Kevin Brown peaked at 95 mph in the first inning, and hit that mark again in the eighth.
--Brown fielded four ground balls with his bare hand Sunday.
--No matter what you think of Cesar Izturis, Alex Cora is not enough of a threat that you should walk him intentionally to escape a jam, as the Pirates did in the seventh inning.
Late and Great
Having written extensively Sunday about fans leaving early, I have to add one important twist that has come this season.
Word is spreading about the Dodger dominance in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, which I first reported April 18.
Here is the Dodgers score-by-innings after 32 games, or 20 percent of the season:
Opponents ...15 11 13...14 14 11...07 02 04...02 01 03...00 - 097
Dodgers .......08 08 09...09 08 15...26 16 13...01 00 00...01 - 114
That's 55-13 in favor of the Dodgers in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. The team is getting killed before and after that triptych, but you really can't walk away from a Dodger game until it's over.
Eric Gagne, of course, explains the Dodgers' ninth-inning dominance, but the team has actually been even better in the eighth inning, in which Gagne has yet to appear. The Dodgers have not allowed an eighth-inning run since April 7.
Here's how it breaks down for the nine pitchers who have been eighth-inningers:
Individually, anyone can put together a few good innings. But collectively, it really is something. In the eighth inning, Dodger opponents are batting .189, with an on-base percentage of .246, a slugging percentage of .255 and an OPS of .501.
And, when he returns from the disabled list, Paul Shuey will be four outs away from an eighth-inning one-hitter.
Sunday, May 04, 2003
We Show Up
On Memorial Day 1997, my brother, father and 2 1/2-year-old niece went to the Dodger game. We arrived about 30 minutes early, got our food, listened to the national anthem, and watched the military planes zoom over our heads. At which point my niece turned to her father and said, "Time to go home."
And thus, as Jay Leno, my cousin James the Yankee fan, or pretty much anyone else who watches sports in this country might say, a Dodger fan was born.
Can I have a sense of humor about this, and take it in stride? Sure - almost always do. But can I also take one moment to set the record straight?
Dodger fans don't always leave early and Dodger fans aren't the only fans who leave early - any more than Columbus was the one who discovered America.
Columbus didn't discover America. Everyone knows that.
A Dodger fan. He left earlier.
Not very funny, is it? Now you know how I feel.
Fans leave early everywhere. No city is immune from it - they're just all immune from the jokes. For example, just a week ago, Minnesota Timberwolves fans poured out of their arena throughout the fourth quarter of their loss to the Lakers in Game 5 of their first-round NBA playoff. No one made fun of those fans. But the fact that they did this in a playoff game, in the biggest game in the team's history, in a sport where big comebacks happen as frequently as cell phones ringing in movie theaters, indicates to me that they must not be above taking an early departure in other situations.
I'm not trying to single out Minneapolis - it happens everywhere.
Second of all, does any group of fans come out to see their team like Dodger fans? Even though the team hasn't won a playoff game in 14 1/2 years, their worst year of attendance has been 2.3 million - in the 1994 strike season. In every year since the Dodgers' last playoff appearance in 1996, attendance has remained above 3 million.
Yes, there is a big metropolis around Dodger Stadium. But that cuts both ways. You can't discount the 40,000 people that show up on average for every game, and then harp on the number that leave - even if that number were 50 percent (which it isn't). How many teams have 20,000 fans that stay from beginning to end?
Dodger fans go to a lot of games. I've gone to as many as 71 games in a season. I think some of us have earned the right to leave a one-sided game or a long, drawn-out one every so often.
Also, people across the country often raise an eyebrow when Dodger fans use the excuse of having to beat the traffic. I raise an eyebrow too, sometimes. That's a lot of raised eyebrows. (By the way, nobody raised an eyebrow better than John Belushi.)
Of the 30 cities represented by major-league teams, I've driven a car in 24 of them. In every city, there has been some traffic. I lived in Washington D.C. for nearly two years and took the bus or metro whenever I could; the traffic could be horrendous. Studies continue to show, however, that Southern California and Los Angeles have the worst traffic in the country. So why shouldn't that traffic be an excuse?
Do you think we want to spend our time in our cars and not in the ballpark? Of course not. But this is our (parking) lot in life.
Having said all this, I will concede these deficiencies in some Dodger fans:
--They are all too likely to come to a game because of a giveaway, as opposed to the opponent or other baseball-related enticement.
--They are all too likely to be enthralled by the Wave or a beach ball.
--They are all too likely (and this one pains me the most to admit, but it's only fair) to leave a game when something big could happen.
Cousin James will never let me forget that a certain game we attended in 1991, when Dennis Martinez of the Expos and Mike Morgan of the Dodgers were perfect through five innings. Morgan gave up a run in the sixth, but Martinez continued to be perfect. And yet, at the end of each inning, you would see groups of fans leaving the park. Those fans missed seeing a perfect game. Many fans remained, but truly, all of them should have.
There is also the legendary shot of brake lights flashing in the Dodger Stadium parking lot as Kirk Gibson's home run won Game 1 in 1988. Of course, part of the magic of that home run is that no reasonable person could have foreseen it, but I won't attempt to make any other excuses for anyone leaving.
I will say right now that I myself have a rule that dicates when it is okay to leave early. My rule was developed during the 1980s and has been tested almost flawlessly in the years since.
You can leave a game when:
[margin of the lead] - [number of innings remaining] > 4
For example, if the Dodgers or their opponents lead 5-0 in the ninth inning, you can't leave, because five runs minus one inning remaining is not greater than four. But if the lead is 6-0 in the ninth inning, or 12-3 in the sixth, it's okay to leave. I believe that only twice in 21 years of having season tickets to the Dodgers has the rule failed to work the way it should.)
Some people will say that there is no time when it's okay to leave early, but I disagree. Obviously, if you only go to a game in a Dodger blue moon, you might not want to use this rule. But if you go more often, I don't think it's unreasonable to decide that you've seen enough. Everyone has their limit.
Anyway, I'm not asking anyone to nominate me or any other Dodger fans for sainthood. But I do think it's time someone pointed out that the idea that people who go to Dodger games should be the butt of the joke about lousy fans...this idea is ludicrous.
Friends, let's not generalize. Let's not live in a world of stereotypes. Let's be sensitive. Or, let's at least come up with some cleverer jokes.